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Arab Militaries Lead Third Round of Syria Strikes


FILE- In this file photo released by the U.S. Navy on Sept. 23, 2014, A-18C Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 87, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

FILE- In this file photo released by the U.S. Navy on Sept. 23, 2014, A-18C Hornet, attached to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 87, prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.

Military teams from two Arab countries led the United States in a third round of airstrikes against the Islamic State Thursday, targeting militant-held oil facilities in northeastern Syria.

The Pentagon reported Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dropped 80 percent of the bomb tonnage in the overnight strikes, which the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed at least 14 militants and five civilians.

Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the United States would investigate the allegations of civilian deaths.

He said the United States takes "great care to prevent collateral damage" during bombings and insisted the campaign in Syria is being carried out with precision.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said the attacks targeted small-scale oil refineries that generate up to $2 million per day for the militants.

The U.S. military also continued its air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq, hitting targets near Baghdad, Irbil and Kirkuk.

Kurdish forces push back IS in northern Syria

Airstrikes in Syria – Wednesday, Sept. 24

Airstrikes in Syria – Wednesday, Sept. 24

In northern Syria, Kurdish forces pushed back an advance by Islamic State fighters towards a strategic town on the Turkish border Thursday and appealed for U.S.-led air strikes to target the insurgents' tanks and heavy armaments.

Islamic State launched a new offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobani more than a week ago, besieging it from three sides. At least 140,000 Kurds have fled the town and surrounding villages since Friday, crossing into Turkey.

Kurdish and Islamic State fighters exchanged artillery and machine gun fire in a cluster of villages about 15 km (nine miles) west of Kobani, where the frontline appeared not to have moved significantly for several days, a Reuters witness said.

Kurdish officials meanwhile said Islamic State had concentrated their fighters south of the town late on Wednesday and had pushed towards it, but that the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, the YPG, had repelled them overnight.

French jets pound Iraq

French fighter jets struck targets in Iraq on Thursday, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said.

"There were strikes in Iraq this morning,'' Le Foll announced without giving any further details.

The strikes were the first by French jets since September 19 when Paris joined the United States military action against Islamic State insurgents in Iraq who have taken over parts of the country.

France opens door to possible Syria strikes

France on Thursday opened the door to possibly joining air strikes in Syria just hours after an Algerian Islamist group beheaded a French tourist in retaliation for Paris' military action against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

France has repeatedly ruled out taking part in air action in Syria where Islamic State has its power base. It fears that strikes against militants there would leave a void that only Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces could fill, making it difficult for "moderate'' rebels to counter the more organized Syrian army.

But the death of French tourist Herve Gourdel, who was beheaded in Algeria just 24 hours after an ultimatum was given to France to halt attacks in Iraq, appeared to toughen Paris' resolve.

"The opportunity is not there today. We already have an important task in Iraq and we will see in the coming days how the situation evolves," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.

Pressed further on whether it was a possibility in the future, Le Drian, who is taking part in a war cabinet meeting on Thursday, said: "The question is on the table".

'Network of death'

As he addressed the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged Islamic State fighters to "leave the battlefield while you can".

Obama blamed sectarian conflicts around the world for creating a "fertile recruiting ground" for groups like the Islamic State, which has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq in a bloody months-long armed campaign.

"There can be no reasoning - no negotiation - with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death," the president said.

Extremism

Earlier in the opening session, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on world leaders to have a "frank discussion" about the causes of extremism in the region.

"We need a decisive action to stop atrocity crimes," Ban said, "and frank discussions on what created the threat in the first place."

In the past week, the Islamic State offensive in northern Syria has displaced more than 130,000 civilians.

US warns Americans of threats in Turkey

The United States has warned its citizens in Turkey to be extra vigilant over the risk of attacks by foreign or domestic militants after it launched air strikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Syria.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said Turkey's eastern and southeastern regions, parts of which border Syria and Iraq, were particularly vulnerable although it had no information on any specific threat.

"Following the commencement of military action against ISIL (Islamic State) targets in Syria, U.S. citizens are reminded that there have been violent attacks in Turkey in the past," the embassy said in a statement issued late on Wednesday. "The possibility of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high."

Security experts discuss possible IS strategy

As the coalition strikes continue, some security experts fear militants are allowing themselves to be targeted in an effort to draw recruits and prepare for a larger war. According to some Beirut analytsts, the U.S.-led coalition’s current strategy could backfire, widening IS's power base beyond the areas of Iraq and Syria that it already controls.

Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said Islamic State militants want to be seen as targets in order to attract sympathy, and therefore recruits. She said IS fighters want Western countries to attack them, and have prepared for the strikes, hiding their most valuable weapons and fighters.

But Sarkis Naoum, a senior columnist with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon, said military force could not be avoided and the U.S.’s largest mistake in dealing with the Islamic State so far is waiting for so long to get involved.

Naoum said the Western alliance with Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could mitigate the fall-out, by changing the narrative. Previous conflicts in the region have largely been viewed in the Middle East as Western imperialism over Muslim countries.

The success or failure of the coalition’s fight against the Islamic State, he said, could hinge on the West maintaining alliances with the Arab world, and gaining support from Turkey and Iran, two of the most powerful countries in the region.

Power vacuum

But Khatib said the outcome of the military campaign won’t matter if the international community is not prepared for the power vacuum that would follow an Islamic State defeat.

Still, political analyst Maher Salloum said it may take years for military force to “delete” the Islamic State. But efforts must be coupled with solving the economic problems that caused some people to join militant groups in the first place, he said.

“But until now no action, no sustainable development, no infrastructure, no jobs, no industrialization,” Salloum said. “No agricultural improvement. People need help.”

Heather Murdock contributed to this report from Beirut, Lebanon. Some material for this report provided by Reuters.

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